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Old school goodness at Koko Beach in Carlsbad

David Boylan

The Prime Rib & Scampi combo at Koko Beach
The Prime Rib & Scampi combo at Koko Beach. Photo David Boylan

Cocoa Beach, Florida is where I spent many a Spring Break and where I learned the fundamentals of surfing. It’s also where I witnessed a young Kelly Slater tearing it up at the Ron Jon Easter Surf Classic. And basically, every time I’ve gone by Koko Beach in Carlsbad thoughts of my early surfing days came to mind, that and the fact that prime rib was listed prominently on their sign and it’s been a while since I’ve had a solid prime rib experience. So it went on my list and when I learned that Jerry Salvo, owner of Captain Keno’s in Leucadia was one of the owners my sense of urgency increased. I needed to check this place out. I should mention that there is no association to Cocoa Beach, and when I asked around to get the backstory on where the name came from, nobody seemed to know. Fair enough, that adds to the mystery of this joint. If anyone out there does have some inside information on the name I’d love to hear it.

My dining companion for this LTP adventure was Joe Manfredi, an old friend from the boat house community on Third Street in Encinitas. Joe was a cook at Jakes for years and has a very unique mix of East Coast New Yorker and surfer and we progressed as surfers together at Boneyard. I had a feeling Joe would appreciate the old-school vibe at Koko Beach and sure enough, he was all over it.

Speaking of that vibe, being from Detroit, there are places like Koko Beach scattered throughout the region. One of my favorites, and nearly identical in look and feel is the Clawson Steak House. These are venerable joints that have established an almost cult like following and eschew culinary trends in favor of a formula that works. Both places also have an active bar scene going on and a menu that goes late. In the case of Koko Beach, they are open 7 days per week until midnight and serve food until that point. The interior is not boasting of reclaimed anything. I could see a hip new restaurateur trying to emulate this look and I’m sorry, but there is no way you can capture the retro essence of a Koko Beach.

So let’s talk about the menu. It was there that I saw a slight hint of trendiness with their entrée’s listed as “From the Farm” and “From the Sea”. I’m thinking “Meat” and “Seafood” would suffice, but that’s just my opinion.

Prime Rib is king at Koko Beach and for good reason. It’s cooked to perfection (medium rare please) tender, and they obviously have the preparation wired. All that and it’s moderately priced in either a 10oz, 16oz, or combo with shrimp scampi which is what I went with. That includes an 8oz cut of prime rib and a generous portion of shrimp. Prime rib is a classic roast beef preparation made from the beef rib primal cut, usually roasted with the bone in and served with a simple pan sauce made from its natural juices (au jus) and often served with a side of horseradish sauce. The word "prime" is a legal designation that refers to the fact that the beef has been graded prime by the USDA. Restaurants that serve prime rib must use prime beef. Otherwise, they're required to call it a standing rib roast, which is much less exciting sounding, or simply a rib-eye roast for the boneless version. Generous marbling and fatty layer is what gives this cut its distinct and juicy flavor that you are paying for so make sure it’s present. If it’s good it will all melt gloriously in your mouth.

There are a generous selection of starters the typical deep fried apps like calamari, onion rings and chicken fingers but also some lighter fare like the steamed clams and shrimp cocktail. Clam chowder and French onion soup are options to start along with crab and shrimp salad and a charbroiled chicken salad.

Back to the meat though, there is a nice selection in that category including ribs, sirloin, rib eye and New York steaks. Burgers, French dip, and steak sandwiches also on the menu and I could see being a nice option if you hit up the bar towards the later hours. Seafood is represented by mahi-mahi, rainbow trout, salmon, shrimp scampi, and crab legs. I’m sticking with meat at Koko Beach but it’s good to know there are options.

Since there is a bar attached, the cocktails are solid and there is a decent beer and wine list. There are also nightly dinner specials priced at $13.95 and $15.95 that are a great value. If I had one complaint it was an odd selection of bread that was brought out with the meal. It had raisins in it and I’m not sure why.

I’m a fan of places like Koko Beach as the entire experience, from the décor, to the staff, to the food is void of pretension. I’m looking forward to hitting the bar up soon for a late night meal after a night out.

Located at 2858 Carlsbad Blvd, Carlsbad, CA 92008 760.434.6868

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